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Rasâbhâsa and Hâsya

Chapter 9
Rasâbhâsa and Hâsya
By Sunthar Visuvalingam

Published with author’s permission from: http://www.svabhinava.org/hasy-abh/Thesis-9.html

[there was no numbered summary for this chapter in the original thesis]

Having justified the distinction between hâsa and hâsya in chapter VIII on theoretical grounds and shown how the mechanisms of aesthetic identification (tanmayîbhavana) in configurations evoking rasâbhâsa already ensure at least a partial aestheticization  of the bisociated emotion of hâsa into hâsya, we went on in chapter VIII to show how this process finds its culmination in the sweet relish (mâdhurya) of the delicate and refined hâsya that depends wholly upon the play of multiple identifications which constitute the very life of shrngâra. In this movement of our inquiry, the category of rasâbhâsa was not given any independent status but instead relegated to a kind of limbo between hâsa and hâsya serving no more than to bridge the two. We now return to rasâbhâsa as an important category hâsya from a very different point of view, namely, as exemplifying the social functions of hâsya in the Sanskrit drama. In this regard, where it is no longer of any importance to determine whether we are enjoying hâsya or only hâsa, rasâbhâsa comes into its own as an independent and, in some dramatic forms like the farce (prahasana), even privileged category of humor and laughter.

Staring from a socio-aesthetic standpoint, Abhinava makes the at first sight startling declaration that all the other rasas are included in hâsya. Now, Abhinava’s theory of the ‘semblance of rasa’ (rasâbhâsa), according to which incongruities in the presentation of any rasa whatsoever results in hâsya, clearly implies that it is because of its bisociative structure that the latter encompasses all the rasa. “Both these (costume and ornament) when incongruous, that is when contrary to place, time, nature, age, or condition become the determinants (vibhâvas) of hâsya. Thereby, it has been shown that all the rasas are components of (included in) hâsya. Hence the vidûshaka too by wearing such costumes makes manifest the semblance of hâsya (hâsyâbhâsa)—but this has been stated before already.” Masson and Patwardhan express doubts about the significance to be accorded to this claim of Abhinava: “It is not perfectly clear what Abhinava means by saying: etena…darshitam. Perhaps he means that hâsya arises as a result of the imitation of the paraphernalia of various rasas. Since this is possible, perhaps one could say that the other rasas are included in hâsya” (Aesthetic Rapture II, p.58, note 437). But as we saw in the example of hâsya deriving from the ‘semblance of shrngâra’ (Râvana), it is not merely a question of imitating the configuration responsible for shrngâra but, more than that, of shrngâra being an effective constituent of the emotional bisociation underlying the hâsya. Our examination below of the examples of the equation rasâbhâsa = hâsya given by Abhinava himself will make it clear that the other rasas are indeed effective components of a bisociated perception correlated to an objective incongruity.

But before we proceed, it would be useful to make immediately some preliminary observations about Abhinava’s enigmatic remark on the vidûshaka’s ‘semblance of hâsya,’ for what really interests us in this chapter is not so much the relation between rasâbhâsa and hâsya but that between hâsya and hâsyâbhâsa. No one has ever questioned the fact, least of all Abhinavagupta himself, that the vidûshaka is the prime focus of hâsya in all the classical plays where he appears. If the essence of the vidûshaka’s character is that the same incongruity or impropriety (anaucitya) that is the sole principle underlying all the various determinants of humor-and laughter, how is it that Abhinava attributes to him, especially in this crucial context of interpreting Bharata’s definition of hâsya, only the ‘semblance of hâsya’?—whereas it is obvious that he everywhere recognizes his evident comic function? The Indian scholars of Sanskrit drama to whom we posed this question were either baffled or simply suggested that thereby Abhinava was underlining the coarse, puerile, obscene and, in any case, unsophisticated character of the hâsya centered on the vidûshaka: being provoked by “improper” (anucita) determinants of hâsya, it would only be a “semblance” of “real” hâsya.

Such an explanation, plausible at first sight, introduces more difficulties, both theoretical and practical, than it solves. Theoretically: since “impropriety” is the very soul of hâsya, why should it productive of hâsyâbhâsa only where the vidûshaka is concerned? Or if it were not a “proper” impropriety (and we leave it to were interlocutors to divine what the term could possibly mean), how is it that the vidûshaka nevertheless not only succeeds in provoking laughter but it is prescribed by the Nâtya Shâstra that his interventions be greeted with abundant laughter? Practically: since the vidûshaka’s prime function is supposedly to provide comic relief (hâsya), such constant resort to “improper” means on his part renders his privileged role in the drama wholly unintelligible. Putting off till later an ampler discussion hâsyâbhâsa, we shall merely draw the conclusion here that if such improper means of producing hâsya—hence only a ‘semblance,’ its is said—are invariably exploited in the vidûshaka and yet provoke laughter both on and outside the stage, this can only mean that those “improper devices” (artha-vishesha; cf. chapter VII, note 10 supra) must have simultaneously a non-comic intention that masquerades under a comic disguise. Once this is admitted, there is nothing to prevent even the genuinely comic instances—those occasioned by “proper” determinants (vibhâvas) of hâsya—from also simultaneously serving a non-comic function, if not always. Seen in this way, the distinction hâsya/hâsyâbhâsa would be not so much between “proper” and “improper” vibhâvas—which is after all, to a large extent, a matter of taste and education—but between two modes of perceiving the vidûshaka’s incongruities of which only the former would be productive of hâsya whereas the latter, without necessarily negating this semblance of hâsya, would be focused on this non-comic function of the vidûshaka. The latter which is, in a word, taboo-violation (transgression), can only be touched upon in this thesis. For the esoteric gaze that is able to pierce through the symbolic behavior of the vidûshaka, the latter’s comic function, even if it does not disappear, is reduced to a mere semblance of itself.

According to the scheme of the Nâtya Shâstra there are four primary rasas, viz. shrngâra, raudra, vîra and bîbhatsa, from which arise the four secondary rasas, viz. hâsya, karuna, adbhuta and bhayânaka respectively. But each of these four pairs if rasas exemplifies a different kind of causal relationship: hâsya (humor) arises from the imitation of shrngâra (love); karuna (sorrow) and adbhuta (wonder) arise as a consequence of actions depicting raudra(anger) and vîra (heroism) respectively; whereas the sights producing bîbhatsa (disgust) also engender bhayânaka (fear). Abhinava further specifies the precise nature of the causal relationships that these examples are merely meant to typify. Shrngâra best illustrates the evocation of a rasa by means of the imitation (= semblance) of any other rasa: because such imitation is well-known to constitute hâsya, it is the determinant (vibhâva) of the latter. Raudra(anger) provides the example of that rasa the consequences of which, such as slaughter, etc., constitute the determinants necessarily giving rise to a second rasa, in this case sorrow (karuna, and certainly bhayânaka). Vîra (heroism) illustrates that rasa which operates by deliberately having in view the evocation of another rasa in other persons, for the exertions (utsâha) of great souls are aimed at arousing the wonder of the world. Abhinava attributes to this same category the hâsa of the clownish vidûshaka, the hero’s constant companion in his love-affairs, which is deliberately intended to provoke the laughter of the heroine. In this category, the consequents (anubhâvas) of the first emotion themselves become the determinants of the dependent or derived emotion. Finally, bîbhatsa (disgust) illustrates that rasa which arises simultaneously with another rasa, in this case bhayânaka (fear), because it has the very same determinant as the latter (cf. chapter IV, note 20). The understanding of these natural relationships between the rasas, ensuing from their very psychology, sharpens the poet’s capacity to exploit various psychological interactions in order to evoke a rich and complex mosaic of aesthetic emotion diversifying the primary rasa. It is the sensitive portrayal of these never wholly specifiable interrelations that distinguishes the master poet or dramatist from the mere novice.

Two parallel passages are to be found on the subject of the formula equating the ‘semblance of rasa’ (rasâbhâsa) with humor (hâsya) in Abhinavagupta, one in the Locana where the text is well-determined though more summary, and the other in the Abhinavabhâratî (vol. I, chapter VI, p.295) which, dealing more elaborately with hâsya, has been translated below. However, the latter text is somewhat corrupt, and in re-rendering it we have given due attention to V. Raghavan’s corrected version given in his Bhoja’s Srngâra Prakâsa (pp.512-13), and introduced clarifications, wherever possible, from the Locana version.

“First of all, he (Bharata) describes the origination (utpatti) of these. As regards the origination of the various rasas there are four causes (hetu), meaning indicators (sûcaka). For the various possible types of cause-effect relationship between the rasas are indicated by just these four alone. In this way, causality due to the semblance (tad-âbhâsa)  or imitation (tad-anukâra) of itself has been indicated by shrngâra. For when the semblance of (sexual) love (rati) is perceived due to (the configuration of) the semblance of determinant (vibhâva), semblance of consequent (anubhâva) and the semblance of transitory emotion (vyabhicârin), there arises the semblance of shrngârahaving the semblance of (aesthetic) relish (carvanâbhâsa) for its essence. The desire (kâmanâ) here, being of the form of mere sexual longing (abhilâsha), is (only) a transitory (vyabhicârin), and not an abiding (sthâyin), emotion. Nevertheless, it appears as if it were the sthâyin (of shrngâra). It is for this reason that there is a semblance of vibhâva, etc., (of shrngâra). And hence rati has the semblance of being the sthâyin. (Such semblance of shrngâra is produced on hearing poems about Râvana’s love for Sîtâ). Because it does not in the least occur to Râvana that Sîtâ may be despising him or indifferent to him. If he were to realize this (ever so little), his desire would indeed evaporate. Even the certainty that “she is in love with me” is of no use here (to Râvana), because it is simply blind infatuation arising from lust. That is why the semblance (of shrngâra) is objectively established here like the semblance of silver in a shell. As in this verse recited by Râvana:

Ever since it fell upon my ears, her name is like a delusive spell
that draws me irresistibly from afar,
[not even for a moment can my mind find rest without her.
My limbs are tormented by the afflictions of the bodiless Cupid,
and with teh course of passion impeded,
I know not how to find the joy of possessing her!]

and other such verses, considered in themselves (tâvati), there is only the semblance of rati, and hâsa is not (yet) manifest. Nevertheless, the series of transitory emotions like anxiety, dejection, infatuation, etc., and his various physical manifestations like weeping and wailing, have Sîtâ for their determinant (vibhâva) but being (at the same time) contrary to the age and character of Râvana, become mere semblances of these (anubhâvas and vyabhicârins of shrngâra) due to their impropriety and thus assume the form of the vibhâvas of hâsya. Hence Bharata will say: ‘The incongruous costume, ornamentation of others, etc….’ In this way, the type of causal relationship based on semblance has been indicated by (the term) shrngâra. Therefore, in all the semblances, like those of sorrow (karuna), etc., also, the existence of hâsya should be understood. It is indeed the operation of impropriety that gives rise to the determinant (vibhâva) of hâsya; and this impropriety is possible in the vibhâvaanubhâva, etc., of all the (any) rasas. The same holds true for the transitory emotions (vyabhicârins) as well. That is why the ancients who were steeped in their knowledge of the true workings of Consciousness introduced such distinctions as rasa, bhâva and their respective semblances into usage on the appropriate occasions. When even something that is not conducive to deliverance (moksha) assumes such a semblance (of being a cause of moksha), there is the ‘semblance of tranquility (shânta),’ which amounts to hâsya itself. In the form (of drama called) ‘farce’ (prahasana), the rejection of impropriety should be inculcated with respect to all the purushârthas (the four traditional orientations of legitimate and meaningful human endeavor). This will be elaborated in the course of the definition (of prahasana). There (among these âbhâsas = semblances?) is (to be counted) hâsyâbhâsa ‘the semblance of humor (hâsya)’ as exemplified by (the following verse of) our paternal uncle Vâmanagupta:

If for other-worldly exploits this world
shows no reverence, what alas! are we to say to that?
But with this fellow’s boisterous laughter here
who would not roar with laughter seizing both his sides?

In the same way, the aesthetic counterpart (karuna) evoked by the sorrow (shoka) of one who is not related (not a bandhu) is also hâsya only (for it is a case of the ‘semblance of sorrow’ karunâbhâsa); this principle (of ‘semblances’ always resulting in hâsya) should be applied everywhere. The above (verse) itself is the example of (of such karunâbhâsa). The sage (Bharata) has employed the ‘just as’ (yathâ) in order to indicate that other instances (of rasâbhâsa= hâsya ) should be inferred along these every lines.”

In the light of all that has beens aid till now on the distinction between a permanent worldly emotion (sthâyin) and its corresponding aesthetic sentiment (rasa), and on the role of emotional bisociation in the genesis of humor (hâsya) through partial identification (tanmayîbhavana), the above passage elaborating and justifying the formula ‘rasâbhâsa = hâsya’ should not pose any serious problems for our understanding. When shrngâra is said to have love (rati) as it sthâyin, the latter term could in such a case refer indifferently to the universalized rati in the connoisseur (sahrdaya)  and/or the rati perceived to objectively present in Râma and Sîtâ, for there is in fact a perfect correspondence and resonance between the two. The objectively inferred rati necessarily contributes, especially at the initial stage (pramukhe, prâk-kaksyâm, in Abhinava’s terminology), to the evocation of the actually experienced but universalized rati in the sahrdaya, and it is the latter that is at the same time (re-) projected into the two protagonists (âshraya) to combine with the former so as to sustain the illusion of our actually participating, in an esthetic mode, in the ived experience of rati in the couple. But in the case of Râvana, the identification with the âshraya is only partially achieved and though the latter seems to be the locus of rati there is no sustained evocation of universalized rati in the sahrdaya but only a partial and unstable evocation of it in the form of a transitory emotion (vyabhicârin, cf. note 12 above). Though the sahrdaya does not really relish rati as a sthâyin within himself he nevertheless has the illusion of doing so because the experience vyabhicârin is evoked by and corresponds to the rati objectively perceived in Râvana. This is precisely the cognitive/affective structure of the ‘semblance of aestheticized love’ (shrngârâbhâsa).  Since the rati objectively perceived does not evoke the corresponding universalized sthâyin in the sahrdaya, the former is said to be a semblance (ratyâbhâsa), from the aesthetic point of view., This is because the term rati, according to Abhinava, actually refers not to the externally perceived emotion that follows the troublesome course of worldly passion, but the universalized sthâyin relished within the sahrdaya, which is re-projected in the form of the former into the âshrayas. When the former, as depicted in the drama, no longer evokes the latter, it does not deserve to be called rati but is mere sexual longing (abhilâsha) which is transitory emotion (vyabhicârin).

Those very consequents (anubhâvas) and transitory emotions (vyabhicârins) of Râvana that evoke rati as a vyabhicârin, in the sahrdaya, simultaneously, because of their impropriety or incongruity, occasion a breach of identification with Râvana or even act as the determinants (vibhâvas) of negative emotions like scorn, disgust, indignation, etc., which sharply contrast with the element of love (rati) evoked by the partial identification. The two contrary impressions evoked render these anubhâvas, etc., incongruous and they thereby become vibhâvas of humor (hâsya). This incongruity is simply the fact that elements of the configuration that are normally associated together to engender a particular aesthetic emotion (rasa) are simultaneously being associated with another context that tends to impede its development. This bisociative structure of the ‘semblance of love’ (shrngârâbhâsa) is schematically compared to shrngâra proper below, taking the ideal case of ‘love-in-union’ (sambhoga-shrngâra).

[comparative diagram goes here]

One of the primary aims of the Sanskrit drama, according to Abhinava, is to inculcate the normal pursuit of the legitimate goals of life (purushârthas) through the proper presentation of the four primary rasas, viz. love (shrngâra), anger (raudra), heroism (vîra) and disgust with the world (suddha-bîbhatsa), tranquility (shânta) or world-weariness (nirveda), which are based respectively on kâma (sexual gratification), artha (the acquisitive urge), dharma(pursuit of duties or of one’s ordained vocation) and moksha (spiritual liberation). An excellent and total approach to the system of Hindu culture in terms of the hierarchy and subtle interplay of this four-tiered gradation of values—an approach that is careful to distinguish the different levels of signification of these terms and the complexity of their interaction—that nevertheless makes full use of the results of modern scholarship, combined with the ethnology of contemporary India with the textual studies of classical Indology, can be found in the work Prof. Madeleine Biardeau (see Bibliography). Already in his very first major statement, in chapter I of the Abhinavabhârati, on the nature of the dramatic apperception (anuvyavasâya-vishesha) as being essentially rasa, Abhinava demonstrates how the rasa-aesthetic, based on identification (tanmayîbhavana) with the exemplary conduct (uttama-prakrti) of the four kinds of heroes (nâyaka; see chapter VII, p.229 above) related to the four major purushârtha-oriented rasas, naturally lends itself to a subliminal social indoctrination, through the universalization of its content. The cognitive structure of the aesthetic experience is such that it is only by interiorizing, in a spontaneous and unselfconscious manner, the values invested in the nâyaka, that the spectators are able to realize the relishing of rasa upon which all their attention is focused.

“Though universalization can be realized on the basis of the plot alone, nevertheless, like the (plain didactic) statement: ‘Those who act in this manner reap such and such a result,’ due to the meagerness of the entertainment (through affective coloring—rañjana has both senses) it affords, it does not become indelibly imprinted in the psychic structure (of the audience)…. In the drama, there is the total absence of any trace of the intention ‘today I am going to be engaged in some real practical activity’ and instead there is only the underlying intention (samskâra): ‘I am going to focus all my attention on skillfully relishing extraordinary sights and sounds culminating in essence in a joy that is common to all the spectators. Hence being made to forget his worldly practical existence through the relishing of suitable song and instrumental music, his heart is transformed into a spotless mirror as it were capable of (aesthetically) identifying itself with (i.e., reflecting) the joys and sorrows evoked at the sight of the gestures and other modes of (theatrical) representation. Listening to the recitation the spectator enters into the life of a character other than himself and there arises a cognition whose object is determined to be Râma, Râvana and so on, and which, not being delimited by any particularities of space and time, is free of any consideration as to whether it is being cognized specially through a mode of knowledge definable as correct (valid), erroneous, doubtful, imaginary, etc. It is the (haunting) psychic impression left by the experience of the accompanying delightful objects in the form of song, instrumental music, (beautiful) women, that is (really) responsible for the active persistence in a subliminal mode (samskâra) of one’s recent identification with Râma, etc. Possessed of (or by) this above-described (now) unconscious identification with Râma, the spectator after some five days or so re-enters, in the course of reliving the aesthetic rapture (camatkâra), into the midst of the representation as imprinted in his self and sees the whole (real) world in its light. Thus each spectator attains to a state of consciousness bearing (samarpita or samarpaka?) the submerged injunction of the form: ‘Such is the lot of those who act in this way,’ which is free of any spatial or temporal determination. Since this consciousness is especially colored by the overpowering experience of rasa nourished by the latent impressions of song and instrumental music infused with aesthetic relish, as by (the loving attentions of) one’s dearest beloved, it becomes embedded in the very depths of the heart so that it remains immune even to the least possibility of fading despite repeated and continuous efforts to dislodge it therefrom. Hence, the spectator, being ever permeated by the desire to appropriate the good and bandon the bad (represented in the drama), for this reason pursues the good and shuns evil (spontaneously even in real life).”

The mode of social indoctrination mentioned above, using the four primary rasa s as the vehicles of the four corresponding purushârthas, relies on the spectators’ total identification with the for kinds of heroes (nâyaka) who, as the receptacles (âshrayas) of these rasas, are depicted as successfully accomplishing their life-aims through adequate means and directing them to their proper objects. Similarly, the improper means and objects which characterize the villain’s efforts are seen to be punished or to result in disillusionment which functions in a negative way as a social corrective. But the latter negative mode would not be so effective if it depended wholly on absence of identification with the villains or the anti-social behavior, for it would provide less entertainment than the former positive identification with the hero. A far more attractive and effective method of presenting such negative examples of purushârtha-oriented conduct is through the exploitation of hâsya. All that is improper with respect to the pursuit of these purushârthas is introduced in the guise of incongruities in the determinants (vibhâva etc.) of the corresponding rasas so as to transform them into the various species of rasâbhâsa (‘the semblance of rasa’), all of which likewise resolve themselves into hâsya and provoke the laughter of the spectators. This is especially the case in the farces (prahasana)  where the ‘pure’ form seems to focus on the improper (and by implication, on the proper) pursuit of spiritual liberation (moksha)  resulting in the ‘semblance of tranquility’ (shântâbhâsa) , whereas the ‘mixed’ form seems to deal especially with the pursuit of sexual gratification (kâma) and economic advantage (artha; cf. note 19 above). Such laughter at the failings, seen as incongruities with respect to social norms, of those on the stage are always accompanied by a feeling of superiority on the part of the laughing spectators. Whereas the total identification with the hero (nâyaka) of the other rasas favors the unconscious acceptance and imitation of his exemplary behavior and attitudes, the inability to identify totally with the comic character because of the incongruous elements results automatically in the rejection of such and similar elements by the spectators in their daily life for fear of appearing ridiculous in the eyes of others.

This is Bergson’s chief contribution to contemporary theorizing on humor and laughter, namely, his stress on the social (corrective) function of laughter (Rire, p.6): “But a ridiculous defect, as soon as it feels itself to be ridiculous, seeks to modify itself, at least externally. If Harapagon saw us laugh at his avarice, I do not say that he would correct himself of it, but he would show it to us less, or he would show it to us otherwise. Let it be said here itself: it is in this sense especially that laughter ‘chastises manners.’ It forces us to immediately try and appear to be what we ought to be, what we will no doubt veritably end up being one day” (Rire, p.13). This is precisely Abhinava’s own conclusion in the course of his rejection of the imitation-theory of drama (propounded by Shankuka) on the grounds that the bisociated perception of both imitator and imitated can only result in laughter (see chapter VII, note 20 above). “For those who are partial to the characters (being ridiculously imitated), the imitation will certainly provoke hatred, indignation, non-cessation (from such conduct) and so on (unlike the laughter it produces in the impartial observers). It is by this very apprehension: ‘In this way we have become the object of ridiculing laughter,’ that the demons became agitated at heart (during their representation in the first legendary performance of the drama staged by Bharata, Nâtya Shâstra, chapter I). Those who are afraid of being the object of ridicule desist from such behavior; but not because they have accepted the right instruction.” This clearly implies a synthesis of the incongruity- and superiority-humor theories, whereby the perception of a comic incongruity in another is accompanied by a feeling of superiority in the laugher. Conversely, the habitual association of these complementary aspects of a recurring phenomenon is sufficient to ensure a feeling of inferiority in the object of ridiculing laughter. “There must indeed be in the cause of the comic something lightly detrimental (and specifically detrimental) to social life, because society responds to it with a gesture that has all the appearance of a defensive reaction, with a gesture that makes one slightly afraid” (Rire, p.157, concluding lines). To present a particular conduct as ridiculous by rendering it incongruous serves to wean the laughers from such habits in their own daily lives. “The resultant laughter from the audience may prove especially embarassing to the involuntary non-conformist if he values the society and his status within it. In such an instance the amused ridicule laughter will act as a negative social sanction, puishment, social control or censure mechanism indicating that he is losing status, and thus motivate him to take care not to make a fool of himself again (i.e., to conform to the norm). Thus a sufficiently ego-involving social or group norm is a steady state since those who non-conform to it will either cease non-conforming or be excommunicated—in either event the norm will tend to be protected against extinction” (La Fave et. al., Humor and Laughter, p.88).

Our first mention of Bergson’s theory was only to criticize him for insisting on “the insensibility that ordinarily accompanies laughter…. Indifference is its natural milieu. Laughter has no greater enemy than emotion” (ibid., p.3), in short, a total absence of sympathy. The rasâbhâsa model of hâsya, on the contrary, cannot do without the (aesthetic) emotion evoked by empathy, though it likewise insists that identification must be only momentary or partial. Towards the very end of his book, Bergson himself seems to suddenly realize the need for some sort of sympathy in the mechanism of laughter but is unable to, or at least does not, reconcile this reluctant admission with his initial categorical denial. “The comic personage is often a personage with whom we begin by sympathizing materially. I mean to say that we put ourselves for a very brief instant in his place, that we adopt his attitudes, speech and acts…” (ibid., p.148). But in that case, would there not also be a momentary sharing of his emotion as well? “The sympathy that may enter into the impression of the comic is indeed a fleeting sympathy. It comes, it also, from a distraction…. Laughter is, above all, a correction. Done to humiliate, it must give to the person who is its object a painful impression. Society thereby venges itself for the liberties one has taken with it. Laughter would not attain its aim if it bore the mark of sympathy or of good-will” (p.150). It is this inability to reconcile the corrective function of laughter with the partial identification that often contributes to it that has obliged Bergson to minimize the role of “sympathy,” whereas Abhinava sees no contradiction whatsoever in emphasizing both aspects. Assimilating this partial or initial identification with the butt to a momentary relaxation (détente) of rational controls, of logical modes of thought, that amounts to a momentary succumbing to “laziness” (avoiding the fatigue of thinking), Bergson concludes that this is only a “prelude” to the real act of laughter which involves the triumphant reassertion of these ego-controls with a sense of superiority. “The movement of détente or expansion is only the prelude to laughter, (…) the laugher immediately re-enters into himself, affirms himself more or less proudly, and would tend to consider the other’s person as a marionette whose strings he holds.” (p.151).

It can, on the contrary, be shown that, far from detracting from the corrective potency of laughter, it is this partial identification constitutive of the bisociation that privilege laughter above all other reactions, like mere hostility or externally imposed enforcement, as the ideal and most effective corrective. It is this that makes it so especially humiliating to the butt and reinforces the feeling of superiority in the laugher. Whereas open hostility, implying complete absence of identification, will not induce a feeling of inferiority in its object who may well feel wronged, laughter suggests that the laugher, though able to identify with whole of the butt’s viewpoint, is nevertheless able to simultaneously see other contrary elements that invalidate thsi viewpoint. Instead of reacting with like hostility, we immediately begin to examine ourselves frantically with a sudden sense of self-consciousness to determine what exactly are these incongruous elements in ourselves that have escaped our attention. The ambiguity of laughter is that it is both for and against the butt, and this is precisely why the laugher feels superior for he embraces the butt’s attitudes, like the strings of a marionette, within his bisociated vision (cf. chapter VII, note 17 above on irony). And the effectiveness of such comic presentation on the stage in weaning away the laughing spectator himself from such improper behavior is due ultimately to the fact that, by laughing at the butt he is actually laughing at that part of his own self that is identified with the attitudes of the butt. Thereby, through repetition, ridiculing laughter becomes intimately associated with such deviant attitudes and the spectator becomes all the more vulnerable to such laughter on the part of others when he indulges in the same. Thus the spectator’s laughter is not only corrective of the butt but also directly of himself, for he has partly interiorized the butt. Though in this function it is the rejection of this (partial) identification that is emphasized and exploited, this fundamental ambiguity of laughter must not be lost sight of. In the ritual clowning of “primitive” societies, and in the hâsyâbhâsa of the vidûshaka, it is on the contrary the partial, almost unconscious, identification with the butt that is primarily exploited to secretly communicate a message and a value that is diametrically opposed to its corrective function.

To begin with, we may propose a superficial interpretation of the formula hâsyâbhâsa = hâsya, inspired by our knowledge of the infectious character peculiar to laughter and Abhinava’s distinction between “laughter in oneself” (âtmastha) and “laughter in another” (parastha; above, pp.220-25). But it must be emphasized that, though the processes to be described below correspond to reality, this interpretation does not do full justice to the formula whose true significance lies elsewhere and in fact contradicts the function attributed to it here. Gurdjieff observes that under certain conditions “every, even the most ordinary, impression can be received as double, that is, it may fall at once on the two halves of the center and produce laughter” (chapter II, point number 10), which means that under certain conditions almost anything can be seen as incongruous. Since incongruity has become instinctively bound with laughter as the cause of the latter, the laughter induced in oneself by the infectious laughter of someone else at a situation that is only potentially or confusedly incongruous will tend to bring into the focus of our perception an effective incongruity that would have otherwise escaped our attention (see note 5 above). The other’s laughter forces us to become alive to all possible incongruities, and all that the dramatist has to do is to bias our perception and judgment in favor of a social norm that will underline the incongruous elements to be chastised.

This clearly implies that it is not incongruity per se but perceived incongruity that is responsible for laughter or humor. Just as ordinarily we laugh when something is perceived to be incongruous, the technique of hâsyâbhâsa, by making us invariably laugh at certain things, teaches us to perceive these things as incongruous and hence improper, even in ordinary life. This structure of hâsyâbhâsa will become clearer by contrasting it with that of the other rasâbhâsas which are also productive of hâsya. Just as in the ‘semblance of shrngâra’ (srngârâbhâsa) Sîtâ is not perceived as a determinant (vibhâva) of love (rati) though she evokes it in Râvana, in hâsyâbhâsa the vibhâva though initially not perceived to be incongruous would nevertheless be presented as provoking laughter in someone else. But in hâsyâbhâsa this extraneous laughter now renders the vibhâva really incongruous to the spectator and thereby the semblance becomes reality, hâsyâbhâsa becomes hâsya itself. Though the semblances (rasâbhâsa) of the other emotions and hâsyâbhâsa are both equally productive of hâsya, the peculiarity of the latter would lie in the fact that objects which are not vibhâvas of the other rasas cannot easily be transformed into such vibhâvas by merely portraying someone else (âshraya) responding to them with the intended basic emotion (sthâyin). But hâsya lends itself readily to such treatment because of its infectious nature and because practically anything, including the vibhâvas of all the other emotions, can be transformed into vibhâvas of hâsya, for hâsya as we have seen includes all these other emotions in itself. The equation hâsyâbhâsa = hâsya would in this way provide the dramatic formula for an effective social indoctrination whereby the dramatist makes the spectators view certain actions in the light of traditional norms of conduct. Many of the practices to be discouraged are in fact rampant in the world and their incongruity may not be immediately apparent to the ordinary spectator who still has to be taught the particular norms and contexts governing the legitimate form of each activity. The easiest way to bring home the incongruity, absurdity and undesirability of such practices and means is to bring them into sharp relief through the directed laughter of others.

But whereas Bergson concludes, from his penetrating observation that such is in fact the repeated use made of laughter in the comedies, that laughter as a social corrective belongs “naturally” as it were on the side of social order and control as a weapon against mechanical deviation, Abhinavagupta merely restricts himself to advocating this ideological annexation of laughter and recognizing its currency in the farces (prahasanas) without however claiming that laughter could not serve the opposite cause of disorder and the transgression of social norms. It is even quite improbable that these were the considerations that led him to make the distinction for, whereas the scope of hâsyâbhâsa as interpreted above is maximum in the didactic farces proper, Abhinava uses the term primarily (if not exclusively) in relation to the . True, this brahmin is constantly dubbed a “fool” (mûrkha, vaidheya), and as “outside the pale of the Veda” (avaidika: excommunicated from the Vedic orthodoxy that remains at the heart of Hindu tradition?) so much so that his pretension of being the “brahmin par excellence” (mahâbrâhmana) is granted in good humor by his fellow-players as an euphemism for an outcaste (cândâla), all this in order to ridicule him as a social deviant, especially in contrast to and in the eyes of other brahmins. “Klapp views the Fool as a social type of great importance; so great, as a matter of fact, as to be considered equal in stature to the Hero and the Villain. For Klapp, a social type never represents a real person; rather it is one way in which members of a particular society think about, and thereby categorize, other individuals of that society. The social functions assigned to the Fool are many, although the most important seems to be that by his negative example he tells us what is valued even if he himself cannot quite get it right. In this role of moralist-in-reverse the Fool acts as a control mechanism stressing what he violates, by emphasizing what is beyond him. To call a non-fool, fool, is to put pressure on that individual to conform to a social value.”

But since the essence of the vidûshaka has already been defined in terms of incongruity of every kind, it is more a question of hâsya here than of hâsyâbhâsa, for we do not really need the laughter of another to underline his comic essence. Moreover, it is the vidûshaka himself who laughs the loudest in the midst of his incongruities and, though he thereby reinforces our own laughter, he must certainly be aware of his own incongruity and determined to remain a “fool.” Again, a systematic analysis of these “improprieties” will reveal that most of them have little to do with the legitimate goals-of-life (purushârthas) but merely consist of stereotyped traits that do not really insert themselves, neither positively nor negatively, into the systematic scheme for inculcating the purushârthas. Far from pursuing his own sexual gratification (kâma) , economic gain (artha), social responsibilities (dharma), or spiritual salvation (moksha) in an incorrigibly “improper” manner, the vidûshaka shows no interest in pursuing them for himself in any way at all; all he does is make a show of unselfishly serving the purushârtha (as a rule, kâma) of the hero (nâyaka) only to persist in bungling his affairs without fail. Most incomprehensible of all, in terms of this interpretation, is that this social deviant to be corrected by laughter. Nevertheless enjoys such a privileged relation with the king and even dominates the latter on occasion, so much so that the latter cannot be to do without him. Finally, there are several indications that, though invariably called a “fool,” he is indeed a non-fool, in which case his “folly” must in the first instance be only the surface-effect produced by some more profound function that he serves. “Bharata connects the vidûshaka with the sentiment of laughter and endows him with ready wit” (Bhat, p.123). According to A. N. Upadhye, the vidûshaka represents “a caricature of the learned Purohita who was the sole advisor of the king in almost all home affairs.” The vidûshaka is indeed often depicted performing the functions or enjoying the privileges that in real life were exclusive to the purohita (royal chaplain); or he assimilates himself to such mythical projections of the purohita such as Vasishtha and Brhaspati (to whom we would add Nârada). For Bhat, “it is a combination of two roles in one person. One is not a caricature of the other” (p.86). But why the strange combination? From our point of view, even if there is an element of caricature, the deliberate assimilation of the vidûshaka and the purohita points to a hidden identity of the metaphysical principles they represent.

In short, the central problem underlying the equation hâsyâbhâsa = hâsya in the vidûshaka is that those very features that are devalorized in his hâsya aspect seem to at the same find a secret valorization when viewed as hâsyâbhâsa. And for some stereotyped attributes, the hâsya seems to be the mere pretext for their presentation within the linear coherence of the plot whether they otherwise do not seem to belong, for in themselves they are not particularly recommendable as effective stimuli of hâsya. Thus Parikh observes of his crooked stick (kutilaka) that “though the crooked staff has thus become, by being an invariable equipment of the vidûshaka, an object of laughter on the Sanskrit stage, its association with him has far deeper significance than is apparent.” This observation, in our opinion, should be extended to all his stereotyped traits, whose signification should then be sought outside in mythology, ritual, iconography, the sacrificial ideology or wherever else they reappear in a non-comic context. But such an extensive excavation into the archaeology of the vidûshaka’s symbolism and, even more so, the detailed justification for interpreting any particular symbol in one way rather than another, is clearly impossible within the brief compass of this thesis. Rather, we restrict ourselves to a discussion of the central principles represented in the vidûshaka, mentioning only in passing and withour argument (till some future work) the constellation of accessory symbols and notions woven into his basic function. Here, we have devoted most of our attention to how this non-comic function is integrated into his aesthetics of hâsya.

The vidûshana of the vidûshaka

One of the enigmas of the vidûshaka whose solution is still a matter of controversy is the precise significance to be attached to his very name. We propose the root vi-dûsh refers here to any de-structuring, denaturing or ‘deforming’ (vi-rûpana) of normal modes of structured meaningful speech and represents, in the linguistic code, the same transgression symbolized by his pronounced deformity (virûpatâ) in the visual code. In the vidûshaka this especially takes the form of ‘contrary’ (or inverted) speech’ (often accompanied by ‘contrary understanding’), nonsensical irrelevant remarks (probably accompanied by nonsensical words in the Three Men’s Talk of the ritual preliminaries to the play proper; pûrvaranga-trigata, cf. chapter X, note 14, infra), obscene abuse (especially of the queen’s maids) or ritual scoffing (as the low-caste reviler, shûdra-apagara, of the Mahâvrata; cf. Kuiper, Varuna and Vidûshaka, pp.207-8), refutation or spoiling (of another’s coherent propositions, as in the Three Men’s Talk; cf. chapter X, note 4), and elsewhere it may even take the form of mere cacophonic sounds (as in the fifth head of Brahmâ). Though each particular mode of destructuring, disordering or deforming the established norms of correct speech may have its specific individual connotations as well and may lend itself to dramatic, mythic, ritual and other exploitations peculiar to it alone, they all have this in common that they signify disorder and transgression (cf. the various instances classified in Dayak under djeadjea ‘acts contrary to nature;’ Caillois, L’homme et le sacré, pp.100-1; Lévi-Strauss, Structures Élementaires de la Parenté, pp.567-68). Thus, on the prohibition elsewhere of such speech, Lévi-Strauss observes: “All these prohibitions come down to a common denominator: they constitute all an abuse of language, and they are, in this capacity, grouped with the prohibition of incest, or with acts evocative of incest” (ibid., p.568).

Though in the vidûshaka such modes of transgressive speech are invariably exploited for hâsya effects to serve his aesthetic function in the drama, the conjunction of incest and contrary speech (or evil sounds) in the fifth head of Brahmâ is clear confirmation of its ritual function of signifying transgression. When Brahmâ expressed his incestuous wish to his daughter Sarasvatî, the latter replied: “Your mouth speaks inauspiciously and so you will always speak in a contrary way” (SP, JS 49.65-80; BhvP From that day on, Brahmâ’s fifth head always spoke evilly and coarsely. One day, when Shiva with Pârvatî visited him, Brahmâ’s four heads praised Shiva but the fifth head made an evil sound and Shiva cut it off (cf. O’Flaherty, Asceticism and Eroticism, pp.125-26; Kramrisch, The Presence of Shiva, p.264). The low-caste (shûdra)  symbols of impurity (braying like a donkey, etc.) associated with the fifth head confirm the transgressive signification beyond all doubt (cf. chapter X, note 2, infra, for further correspondences with the vidûshaka).

“The ‘inverted’ behavior assumes different forms, which may be found associated or separated. The most common is that which goes under the name of ‘backward speech’: the clown says the contrary of what he means to  express. The mythical Koshari, since his birth, ‘spoke nonsense, spoke inversely…’.  The Newekwe say the contrary of what they wish to signify…the inverted speech accompanies the violation of taboo because the latter likewise constitutes an inverted behavior; it has the purpose of rendering the violation manifest, of underling it symbolically…. The thesis that reverse speech and understanding have the function of explicating the violation of taboo, is solidly founded on ethnological data” (Makarius, Le Sacré at la Violation des Interdits, p. 282; cf. also CI, pp.35-36). That this signification of contrary speech’ is quite independent of any comic intent or effects can be easily demonstrated (as in Brahmâ’s fifth head) by the ethnographic materials revealing it to be a characteristic of the members of many important secret societies revolving around transgression but having little to do with clowning proper. It “recurs, in the Amerindian domain, at the heart of ritual societies whose members are not clowns but draw inspiration, in their customs, behavior or their ceremonies, from the tradition of taboo-violation” (ibid, p.287). Especially striking is the Hidatsa secret society called ‘Dogs,’ where “the contrary speech’ is associated with ritual license where the incest-taboo is deliberately violated, just as with a whole violatory behavior” (loc. cit.).

Considering that Abhinava is the greatest theoretician of the Bhairavâgamas, it may be suggested here that Bhairava’s lopping off this fifth head of Brahmâ with his (impure) left thumb-nail (uccishta) is symbolic of transgression (brahma-hatyâ)  and, not excluding other primarily metaphysical meanings, also mythically expresses, under the guise of an opposition, the historical reworking or translation of a hidden transgressive dimension of brahmanical tradition into a Shaiva-Tantric mould adapted to a different milieu. “The cutting off of Brahmâ’s fifth head by this god (Shiva) is in a sense symbolical for the emergence of the Tantra-influenced period in Hinduism” (Goudriaan, Hindu Tantrism, p.66).

It would suffice here to state that this parallelism with Brahmâ’s fifth head is not exclusive of other models like the perverse (dushkrt) Vrshâkapi’s molesting (vya-dûdushat) of his ‘mother’ (amba) Indrâni’s “well-made” (tashtâni), the brahmacârin’s abuse of the hetaera, the ritual scoffing of the shûdra reviler (apagara) or Varuna’s refutation of Indra in the Vedic verbal contest (vivâc; cf. Kuiper, Varuna and Vidûshaka, pp.192-93).

The interpretation of the various modes of the vidûshana in terms of the common denominator  of destructuring or disorganizing the normal well-articulated speech also accounts for the vidûshaka being protected specifically by Omkâra (instead of Brahmâ). The Vedic sacrifice has a dual (if not triple) aspect, one that is structured (nirukta) and is the mainstay of the socio-religious order and another that is unstructured (anirukta) and expresses the hidden transcendental dimension of the ritual ideology. “Anirukta is the murmured, continuous and amorphous sound. Exempt from all articulation it is ungraspable so long as its is not integrated into a structure” (Silburn, Instant et Cause, p.82; “recitation of words that are indistinct or uncertain by reason of their obscurity and identified, by this fact, with Prajâpati the obscure,” ibid, p.81; Shatapatha Brâhamana XIV.2.2.21). For further details on this chaotic, dispersed, hidden, unfinished, redoubtable aspect of anirukta as opposing, completing, protecting and yet transcending the anirukta, cf. Silburn and Renou, Anirukta. Elsewhere Renou shows how it is represented in the ritual by “asyntactic elements (…) followed by words encumbered with a nasal resonance (indro3m, sûryo3m) and a o vocalism (o3thâmo, etc.)” and inert words su mat pad vag de and also consists of contortions of vocables; it permits the attainment of what is out of reach”—it is in this context that Renou refers to Omkâra as “nirukta par excellence, because it says everything even though not enunciating anything distinct at all” (L’Inde Fondamentale, p.73; for the privileged link of the anirukta-Omkâra with the brahmán-priest and as akshara, cf. Silburn, Instant et Cause, p.92). This anirukta seems to be reflected both in the indistinct sounds dumdumkâra (or hûmkâra), Pâshupata Sûtra I.8 and the incoherent speech (Pâshupata Sûtra III.17: api-tad-bhâshet) of the Pâshupata whose meditation was chiefly on Omkâra as the quintessence of speech (cf. chapter X, note 1). In the obligatory stammering of the initiate (dîkshita), it would reflect on the linguistic plane the unstructured chaotic character of the embryonic state to which he regresses, whereby he reverts to a condition prior to his assimilation of the particular order imposed on the adult by the phonetics, grammar, etc., of his language. This return to chaos, amounting to a transgression, is represented in the visual code by deformity, and Silburn has shown how the virûpa (‘deformed’) aspect of Prajâpati the Year (incorporated by the sacrificer) “is symbolized by murmured speech (anirukta), indistinct and devoid of structure” whereas “the structured year (rûpa), of a mental order, which forms the very framework of the sacrifice (…) is a willed organized continuity” (Instant et Cause, p.45). It is this symbolic equivalence of deformity on the visual code and disordered unstructured speech on the linguistic code that would have permitted the variant readingvidûshaka-virûpita (‘deformed’) instead of vidûshaka-vidûshita (said of his refutation of the propositions of Indra-as-assistant-of-the-stage-director, pâripârshvika, in the verbal contest of the Three Men’s Talk, Trigata; Bhat p.88, Kuiper Varuna and Vidûshaka, p.178, 192, notes 320, 293, 355, 391; see infra chapter X, note 14); since Indra is the representative of cosmic order (rûpa), the cosmogonic refutation of his propositions by the Varuna-vidûshaka(representing the chaotic forces of the netherworld) is assimilated to a linguistic ‘deformation’ of his speech. What we have wished to stress is the profound ritual intention despite all the comic effects for which such language is exploited in the vidûshaka.

The Deformity of the vidûshaka

(Parikh, pp.21-22; Kuiper, Varuna and Vidûshaka, pp.218-22)

Kuiper has related the deformity of the vidûshaka to that of the human scapegoat (jumbaka)  as the god Varuna in his ‘evil form’ (pâpa-rûpa)  to substantiate his theory on the scapegoat function of the former on the ritual plane of the original drama. In the Introduction to this thesis, we suggested that this scapegoat function is easily accommodated within the larger function of his representing the impurity, evil and chaotic condition of the consecrated pre-classical sacrificer (dîkshita) himself during his embryonic regression. The symbolization of chaos and transgression by physical deformity is well-known from ethnology (cf., for example, Makarius, Les Jaguars et le Hommes, p.224; Caillois, L’homme et le sacré, p.143), and the female consort (shakti) of the “Mad” (Unmatta-) Bhairava, an extreme left-hand divinity presiding over transgressive Kaula rites, is called Viruddhângî  ‘of deformed or contrary limbs’ (Unmatta-bhairava-pañcânga, unpublished manuscript). It was also suggested that the vidûshaka represents the brahmán-priest with an exaggerated Varunic (= pre-classical dîkshita) aspect. Below, we give an example of the projection of this transgressive Varunic dimension of the purohitas (royal chaplains) into myth in the form of an exaggerated deformity which provokes ridiculing laughter in the exoteric gaze that is wholly identified with beauty (rûpa), i.e., with the socio-religious order founded on interdictions.

The purohitas were specialists of the Atharva-Veda and find their mythical prototype in the purohita of the king of the gods, of Indra, viz. Brhaspati, who was an Ângirasa, the latter representing the magical transgressive dimension of the couple Atharvângirasas constituting the totality of this Veda (which is moreover given the first place in the later Tantric systems; cf. Goudriaan, Hindu Tantrism, p.16). “The Ângirasas are called virâpâsah, which has interpreted as referring to their ambiguous nature, since they belong to the opposed parts of the cosmos. The vairûpas, ‘sons of the virûpa(s),’ were probably not different from the Ângirasas” (Kuiper, Varuna and Vidûshaka, p.61); “their character was, accordingly, intrinsically ambiguous, beneficent and inauspicious.” What could be more striking than this late formula from the Bhâgavata Purâna (10.34.13)  where, just as we laugh at the deformity of the vidûshaka as contrasted to the ideal beauty (rûpa) of the hero and heroine, a certain person says that formerly, priding himself in his beauty (or too much identified with beauty), he sued to ridicule (laugh at) those deformed sages, the Angirasas (forwhich he is mortally cursed by them): rshîn virûpân angirasah prâhasam rûpadarpitah. Since we cannot imagine that the Angirasas had to be deformed as a necessary qualification, the term virûpa here must refer, like the vidûshaka’s real deformity itself, to their being typical taboo-violators and it is this transgression that provokes laughter in the exoteric vision that recognizes itself only in rûpa. Now rûpa means form, especially ordered or beautiful form, and is the aesthetic transposition of a more fundamental metaphysical conception that is also translated, on the social plane, into the rigorous observance of the system of taboos and, on the linguistic plane, into the correct forms of ordered ritual speech (nirukta).

Caillois observes with reference to the universal characteristics of the end-of-the-year saturnalia that “the festival reintroduces the time of creative license, that which precedes and engenders order, form and interdiction (the three notions are linked and are together opposed to that of Chaos)” (L’homme et le sacré, p/143). G.J. Held has likewise shown that the primary reference of the term rûpa in the brahmanical literature was originally to the classificatory systems underling this ritual order: “By creation of the cosmic order ancient Indian literature means the giving of rûpa to the elements…. The Indian concept of the act of creation, therefore, is the classificatory arranging of things according to certain norms” (Held, p.118; cf. p.120). Virûpa, as opposed to this, refers to the original, chaotic, unstructured aspect of Prajâpati symbolized by his incoherent, contrary and unstructured (anirukta) speech, also characteristic of the vidûshaka; and is correlated to transgression on the socio-religious level (cf. Caillois, L’homme et le sacré, p.101, for speech). Whereas the hâsya function of the deformed vidûshaka is taken for granted and from the social standpoint is interpreted as a devalorization of his improper conduct, in this context the deformed Angirasas are explicitly venerated as sages and it is the laughter of the devalorizing exoteric gaze that is chastised instead. The opposition between rûpa and virûpa (and all that is symbolized by them) and the mode of intervention of hâsya is the same in both cases, except that the latter is clearly a case of the ‘semblance of humor’  (hâsyâbhâsa) and its object is a mythical projection of the purohitas. In the light of all the indications favoring the identification of the vidûshaka with the purohita (Vasantaka in the play Ratnâvalî III even “refers to himself as a minister amâtyafar superior in intellectual equipment to Brhaspati” (Parikh, p.10); Abhinava’s attribution of hâsyâbhâsa to the vidûshaka can be justified by his representing, if not exactly the purohita himself, at least some of the basic principles and functions of the latter, especially his hidden side.

Vidûshaka as all-devouring (Agni-sarvabhakshaka)

Another fundamental unsolved problem of the vidûshaka is the stereotyped over-insistence on his enormous appetite (constant obsession with food) and on his ‘sweetmeats’ (modakas) which, though invariably exploited for comic effects, are shared by him with Ganesha. It is suggested that this all-devouring appetite is due to the vidûshaka representing (the god of Fire) Agni (‑Consciousness) in his ‘all-devouring’ (sarva-bhakshaka) form and that the modakas represent the Soma (‘elixir of life’). This symbolism is organically linked to transgression as a means of bringing about an expansion or totalization of Consciousness and a rejuvenation of the psycho-physical system. This is why the Tantric divinity of transgression par excellence, namely Bhairava (mark his forms like Unmatta-, Ucchishta- which he shares with Ganesha) is also the symbol of the all-devouring Consciousness (bhairavâgni)  in Kashmiri Shaivism. This seems to be a retention of the central Vedic theme of the hidden sinister forms of Agni and Soma (Bergaigne) which have been retained even in the epic mythology in Varuna’s realm in the netherworld (Kuiper, Varuna and Vidûshaka, passim). Caillois notes that “there are numerous reasons for thinking that the sexual act is constantly assimilated to a manifestation of voracity” (L’homme et le sacré, p.102)  and not only is this observation amply supported by Lévi-Strauss’ findings but we find ample confirmation of it in the manner and contexts in which the vidûshaka alludes to his appetite (cf. chapter X, note 22). This fusion of sexual and alimentary (or even cooking and burning) images and motifs refers back ultimately to a complex of esoteric psycho-physical techniques exploiting the sexual experience, using it as a vehicle, for the expansion of Consciousness (vishvâtmatâ), which leads to the juxtaposition of incestuous symbolism with that of ‘eating,’ ‘cooking,’ or ‘burning’ the world (the three processes being synonymous in this regard). Sometimes the motif of embryonic regression is also associated with the one of incest in this context (cf. Eliade, RSI pp.57-58), and elaborate riddle-mechanisms or figures of speech are exploited to bridge these various domains whose terms come together in a single mythical episode (cf., chapter X infra, ad. avalagita). To signify what is ultimately an inner lived experience (the incest, for example, may not be concretely realized as in the Kaula sacrifice (kula-yâga); it is sufficient that the embryonic regression be relived as mode of incest, hence of transgression).

The vidûshaka’s reddish-eyes (pingâksha), shared with the jumbaka and the Soma-cow, likewise symbolize Soma (Kuiper, Varuna and Vidûshaka, p.220) and Agni. That the gluttony and modaka is not exhausted by its comic effects is easily established by a detailed comparison with the ‘all-devouring’ (sarva-bhakshaka) Agni in the ‘burning of the Khândava forest’ episode in the Âdiparvan  of the Hindu national epic, the Mahâbhârata, where the god of Fire is described as: brahmin (vipra, 221.30), reddish beard (hari-pingojjvala-shmashru), reddish (pinga, 31-32), a gluttonous brahmin (brâhmano bahu-bhoktâsmi, 222.2), reddish-eyed (pingâksha, 227.38, 231.19). Hari-shmashruis given for the vidûshaka in Bhâva-Prakâshana, GOS, p.289; cf. Bhat, p.48, and pp. 50, 52, 135, 261 for Kapiñjala’s beard). For the Khândava as ‘sweetmeat’ (modaka), and the assimilation of its burning (= eating) to the world-consuming fire of pralaya, cf. Biardeau, Études de Mythologie Hindoue V, p.138, note 1 and J. Scheuer, pp. 162-23, where he has done a detailed analysis of the symbolism involved. The libidinous context of this forest conflagration and the mother-serpent swallowing her son (and perishing) in its midst to save him, along with some other details of the symbolism, are all suggestive of incest. For the universal connection of gluttony with incest, cf. Lévi-Strauss, La Pensée Sauvage, pp. 139-40; Le Cru et le Cuit, pp.274-75; for the forest-fire equated with incest in Amerindian mythology, cf. Lévi-Strauss, L’Homme Nu, pp.89, 130.

A careful analysis of the vidûshaka’s comic references to his obsession with food will no doubt reveal that, when not wholly gratuitous, it is assimilated to (especially the king’s) sexual appetite or to the Soma-symbolism (as when Mânavaka compares the moon to a modaka, Bhat, p.223). Since the vidûshaka is constantly assimilated to a (brown) monkey, it may be relevant to note that it is in the context of the Khândavadâha that Arjuna obtains, at the behest of Agni, the famous monkey-banner (kapi-dhvaja) from Varuna to whom it was confided by Soma (224; 1-17; Gita Press edition). Arjuna is the epic incarnation of (the king of the gods) Indra who, according to the Jaiminîya Brâhmana I.3.63 and Shatapatha-Brâhmana I.6.9.18, stole the Soma in the form of a monkey. These assimilations seem to lead back to the Vrshâkapi (‘Virile Monkey’) of Rig-Veda X.86 in whom many have seen the ritual prototype of the vidûshaka and whom Bergaigne has identified as a symbol of (Agni-) Soma. Dandekar, on the basis of epic evidence, has identified Vrshâkapi with Vishnu who is incarnated in that very Krishna who, together with Arjuna, assists Agni in consuming the forest. In this episode, Krishna and Arjuna are repeatedly referred to as a single bi-unity by being called the ‘two Krishnas’ or by being compared to the twin Ashvins (221.30). It would be no doubt possible to derive an entire theory of kingship as a sacred institution from this precise but complex symbolism, but this is something we are unable to undertake here. For the continuity, not to say solidarity, of this complex of ideas and practices centered on the purohita (-king couple) with the so-called ‘heterodox’ currents like the Pâshupata ascetics and the Kâpâlika ‘promulgators of the doctrine of Soma’ (soma-siddhântins), see especially Jacques Scheuer’s (op.cit., pp.168-80) detailed comparative analysis of the Khândavadâha with the confrontation between Marutta/Samvarta and Indra/Brhaspati, where Samvarta is revealed to be the hidden aspect of the sacrificial fire incarnated in Brhaspati and is likewise assimilated to Samvartaka, the ‘fire at the end-of-time’ (pralaya).

The most condensed and pregnant formula expressing this lived experience of consuming the entire universe of sensory experience in the blazing fire of the (sexualized Bhairava-) Consciousness is found in Abhinava’s definition of the esoteric Trika technique of hatha-pâka: ‘cooking or digesting (the world’ by force.’ [Sanskrit verses go here] Tantrâloka III. Jayaratha’s commentary makes it clear that the ‘metaphors’ of both cooking and sexual union are intentional. That this technique has not been invented by the Trika can be inferred from the hymn to Agni devouring the Khândava forest (vana = modaka = soma /amrta): [Sanskrit verses go here] Mahâbhârata, Âdiparvan, 231, Gita Press edition). For the assimilation of the five kinds of sensory impressions to ‘food’ (and energy), see Tantrâloka III 228-29; and for Consciousness (citi) as ‘fire’,  see Kshemarâja’s Pratyabhijñâ-Hrdayam (PH; Delhi 1977) aphorism (sûtra) 14 and commentary. For Consciousness using the sex-experience as a vehicle for its expansion and totalization, see especially Abhinava, Parâtrimshikâ-Vivarana pp.45-52: [Sanskrit verses go here] p.46.

Without going into discussion, we may point out that the image of the mother-snake swallowing her son fuses the symbolism of incest with that of embryonic regression, and the same motif is abundantly illustrated in Amerindian mythology; cf. e.g. Lévi-Strauss, Le Cru et le Cuit p.112, 133, 164-65, 179; MM [???] pp.328-29, 354, etc. It may also be noted that the mother-serpent’s head is cut off before her son is ‘reborn’ in the Khândavadâha episode. For the Vedic and Upanishadic antecedents of Consciousness as the devouring Agni, cf. F.B.J. Kuiper, “The Bliss of Asa,” Ancient Indian Cosmogony, pp.83-85. It is the impurity represented by Bhairava, the disgust it evokes, that accounts primarily for his ‘terrifying’ aspect. The universalization of Consciousness therefore necessarily involves the overcoming of this disgust to assimilate the worst impurities in an act that amounts to transgression. Ch Tantrâloka V: [Sanskrit verses go here]. The violation of food-taboos (meat, wine, etc) is evident in the vidûshaka (Bhat Part I, chapter V, “Food and Drink,” pp.69-73) and Shâradâtanaya explicitly recognizes the anomalous character of his tastes: bhakshyâbhaksya-priyo nityam marma-sprn narma-vakti ca / Bhâva-Prakâshana, GOS, chapter XI, p.281, 1.3 (cited by Bhat p.73: “fondness for food both prescribed and prohibited”). His modakas too may be examined for traces of impurity…

In this chapter, we have merely tried to show that beneath the hâsya function of the vidûshaka is hidden a non-comic symbolic function that links him up with the whole system of Indian symbolic life. Replaced in this context, his hâsya aspect reveals itself to be a mere semblance, assumed in order to permit and facilitate the transposition of ideas and doctrines that have little relevance to the aesthetic and literary level of the drama. Nevertheless, there is an intimate link between transgression and the comic (as is evidenced by the ritual clowning in “primitive” societies, where the transgressions are not only symbolically but often also really enacted) which privileges hâsya above all for mediating the hidden symbolic function of the vidûshaka, for all the symbolism of the latter finally converges around the fucntion of transgression which is signified by his contrary speech, deformity, voracious appetite, etc. Because an analysis of this symbolism threatens to take us wholly out of his comic function in the drama into a detailed consideration of the interrelation of the same motifs in their complex interrelation in brahmanical ritual, tantric “physiology,” Purânic myth and so on, we have restricted ourselves to a rapid presentation of the transgressive dimension hidden in three stereotyped features of the vidûshaka in order to show what a vast and intricate system of representations is involved in his apparently meaningless comic traits and behavior. The theoretical results of these preliminary findings (and of other symbolic correspondences that we have referred to elsewhere in passing) will be summarized in the Conclusion. What we have tried to probe into here is the manner in which the vidûshaka’s signifying function as a whole—especially in so far as it is centered on symbolic transgression—has been reconciled with or rather integrated into his hâsya function, and to determine how the structure of hâsya  especially lends itself to such exploitation. In the following chapter, we shall pursue this question further, and in a more exhaustive and detailed manner, with regard to the comic incongruous speech of the vidûshaka.

[this concludes chapter IX on rasâbhâsa]